U.S. faces “many gaps” in manufacturing offshore wind farms

There are “many gaps in the U.S. manufacturing sector and in its infrastructure and planning activities which pose a significant barrier to the development of offshore wind,” according to a co-author of the recently released U.S. report on wind farm supply chain prospects.

Ross Gould, vice president for supply chain development at the Business Network for Offshore Wind, was a co-author of the report produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and released on January 23rd.

Ross Gould, vice president for supply chain development at the Business Network for Offshore Wind

Investment Needed

Gould told AJOT that major obstacles were port infrastructure and vessel construction: “Overcoming these barriers will require an investment of at least $20 billion. Without additional investment, half of the U.S. offshore wind energy projects in the pipeline are at risk of being delayed beyond 2030 because of limited port infrastructure. This risk could be addressed with around $6 billion of investment in expanded ports and vessels to ensure projects can be achieved. Additionally, the U.S. will require at least 24 component facilities with costs between $200-400 million and take 3-5 years to complete.”

Gould noted that the recently released, “A Supply Chain Roadmap for Offshore Wind Energy in the United States is a call to action for ports, shipbuilders, developers, manufacturers, labor unions and other stakeholders to install 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy in the United States by 2030.” By way of comparison, it’s estimated that 1 GW could power 725,000 homes.

Shortfalls In U.S. Manufacturing

The report identified subcomponents that pose a challenge to domestic component manufacturing, including:

• Yaw and pitch bearings

• Permanent magnets

• Flanges and other large cast or forged components

• Steel plates that are rolled into monopiles or towers

• Electrical systems for offshore substations

• Mooring chains.

Since the U.S. report’s release, Gould said, there has been a positive response: “We are already hearing from people about how to move on our proposed actions and how to take the next steps forward … We have also received calls from companies who are not currently in the offshore wind supply chain saying that they would like to be in the offshore wind supply chain…”

Gould noted that there are currently over a dozen planned major component manufacturing facilities:

“There is one major component manufacturing facility up and operating. This is the Nexans facility in South Carolina, they produce high voltage subsea cable. They have other facilities in the United States that produce cable that is installed in the turbines.”

There is also a monopile facility in New Jersey that is nearing completion: “This facility can do some work on monopiles, but it cannot create the monopiles from scratch yet. That facility should be up and running within the next year.”

That is the EEW facility. The facility will support construction of the Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind Project One which will generate enough wind power to support more than 700,000 homes and create more than $448 million in economic benefits, the company says.

Atlantic Shores Project One is the largest single project awarded in New Jersey and third-largest offshore wind project in the United States. The EEW Group is a global leader in manufacturing large-diameter steel pipes for offshore wind turbine foundations located at the Port of Paulsboro Marine Terminal in New Jersey.

On January 26th, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero announced the Port’s proposed Floating Offshore Wind Staging and Integration facility, known as “Pier Wind.” A conceptual assessment is scheduled for completion in Spring 2023 for Pier Wind, which aims to become the largest facility specifically designed to accommodate the assembly of offshore wind turbines at any U.S. seaport. Turbines assembled in Long Beach would be deployed to wind farms off the coast of Central and Northern California.

Planning for 15 MW Wind Turbines

Gould says that wind turbine capacity is rising to 15 MW thus increasing the prospect for lower cost power generation. However, this places new challenges on wind developers, ports, shipbuilders and component makers: “We are expecting the manufacture of 15-megawatt wind turbines to become commercialized before the end of this decade. We know that a Chinese company is testing one 15-megawatt technology at this time. What we’re getting at is that if you are planning to build a port or to build a vessel that would be installing wind turbines, you can’t just plan for what’s commercially available today. You need to plan for it to be in the larger sizes because otherwise your investment will be useless in a few years.”

With the exception of a research project off the coast of the state of Maine, all the wind farms on the East Coast will be fixed bottom through 2030, Gould said: On the West Coast, “there are plans for offshore floating wind turbines where the turbines could be built before 2030. This means that developers should not only be planning to build infrastructure for fixed bottom wind turbines but also for the floating wind space.”

Port Funding

Ports can access public funding to support infrastructure development: “There are public and private sources for port development financing. One of these programs is the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) that is administered by the U.S. Maritime Administration. PIDP is a grant program that ports can apply for to support infrastructure upgrades including support for offshore wind farms. For example, the U.S. Maritime Administration provided $20 million to Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Virginia to enable a staging area for offshore wind projects. There was also $29.5 million allocated for Albany, New York, for a wind tower manufacturing port project.”

The report noted the following resources required to meet the U.S.’s 30GW goal by 2030:

• 2,100 wind turbines

• 2,100 foundations

• 6,800 miles of cable

• 58 crew transfer vessels

• 4–6 wind turbine installation vessels

• 11 service operation vessels

• 4 cable laying vessels

• 2 scour protection installation vessels

• 4–8 transport vessels

• 4–6 heavy lift vessels.

Workforce Challenges

The report projects that offshore wind will generate between 12,300–49,000 full-time jobs.

Gould says the U.S. has workers within its workforce that have the capabilities and skills that can be applied to the ‘offshore wind space.” However, in terms of the number of workers, “we are seeing shortages in the number of workers that we have across many sectors. There is a shortage of skilled workers in a number of workspaces. Welders and the shortage of welders is a problem for shipyards, the offshore wind industry, and other workspaces.”

There are also certification requirements: “There are certification requirements that workers will need for the offshore wind industry and here there are some particular challenges. People need to be trained on sea survival skills and skills related to working in heights and working in maritime conditions. In terms of welding, people need to be trained on certain types of welding standards.”

Project Labor Agreements

Gould said that agreements with the building and construction trades are often needed for offshore wind projects moving forward.

Referring to New York, Gould said “the procurement process requires that the awardee make a good faith effort to enter into a project labor agreement with the building and construction trades.”

He explained: “You are seeing some agreements …. ORSTED, a wind farm developer, announced a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Building and Construction Trades Unions for its offshore winds projects.”

In an announcement, ORSTED said the National Offshore Wind Agreement (NOWA) creates working conditions and injects hundreds of millions of dollars in middle-class wages. The agreement was authorized by 15 international union presidents and their local affiliates and covers all of ORSTED’s contractors and subcontractors performing offshore wind farm construction from Maine to Florida.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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